Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday I'm In Love... with Krave Jerky

In an effort to eat more protein, I've been trying a variety of different jerkies. I'm fine with them tasting just like meat, but sometimes, they just taste off.

So I was intrigued when I came across Krave jerky at Target. They have more intense and interesting flavors than just about every other jerky company, and yet the flavors don't overpower the meat. I also love that they use gluten-free soy sauce.

I've only had the chance to try a couple of flavors (the ones my store carries), but I am head-over-heels in love with the Black Cherry Barbecue Pork. It's nowhere near as sweet as the name implies, but it's not overly smoky like so many "barbecue" jerkies are. It's not as spicy as some of their flavors, either, so I don't feel like I'm burning holes in my tongue.

Krave has eight different flavors, using three different kinds of meat, so if Black Cherry Barbecue isn't your favorite, I'm sure there'll be one to fit your palate.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Reading Mouse: Rose Under Fire

Can a companion book ever live up to its predecessor? Find out what I think about Code Name Verity's companion, Rose Under Fire.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Flights and Flatbreads at Seasons 52

Last week, my parents had dinner with some friends at Seasons 52, a newish restaurant (part of a chain) in Burlington. Ever since, they've been talking about how much they enjoyed it and how they wanted to go back to try their Flights and Flatbreads menu. So I gamely tagged along with them Monday night to give it a shot.

First off, the Flights and Flatbreads menu is one hell of a deal. For $15, you get 2-ounce pours of three different wines, a full glass of your favorite of the three, and any of the flatbreads on the menu. Since the flatbreads are all around $9-10, and the wines start at $8 a glass, you can't go wrong with this deal. (Technically, the menu says this runs until 6pm daily, but their website says all day in Massachusetts, probably due to happy hour laws. Call ahead if you want to try this later in the day.)

I went with the white flight (they also offer a red flight and, for $5 more, a red flight all rated 90 points or higher). I'm not a big wine drinker, because it all just makes me sleepy, but I know what I like. The Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay was fine, but I'm never a chardonnay drinker to begin with. I quite liked the Raats Family Chenin Blanc, but I found the Casillero del Diablo Viognier to be far superior.

The flatbread selection was also impressive; you can pick any one (including the seasonal option) from the menu. I chose the Garlic Pesto Chicken flatbread, mainly because I love any pizza heaped with arugula. It was delicious, although I wanted even more of the creamy pesto that was drizzled on top. A bowl of it to dip into would have been ideal for me :) And the bread itself was super thin and crispy. I was impressed with how well it held up with so many toppings! My mother chose the Spicy Chipotle Shrimp, which I think was everyone's favorite, because the flavors (grilled pineapple, cilantro, feta) were so evenly balanced. My father ordered the Blackened Steak and Blue Cheese flatbread, which I happily avoided thanks to the blue cheese.

And as much as I loved this deal, I LOVE the desserts at Season 52. They all come in tiny glasses, and they're all $2.50. So flavorful, so adorable, and just the right size.

Seasons 52 is a chain with 40-something restaurants around the country. Burlington is the first in Massachusetts, though, with Chestnut Hill opening next week.

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 4, 2013

Too Tired

Early bird dinner with my parents + 2 glasses of wine + daylight savings = my bedtime

More of this wonderful pizza tomorrow :)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Only Caramel Snack Mix You'll Ever Need

For the past few years, I've been throwing together some kind of snack mix for my friends' annual Halloween party. My thinking is that it's always good to have something to snack on before the drinking begins. I've tried a variety of different mixes and coatings, but I think I've finally tried the last recipe I'll ever need. Is there proof for this? Well, the bowl was completely empty by the end of the night (which has never happened before), so I'm pretty sure this one's a keeper.

As with most snack mixes, feel free to play with the ingredients. This year I opted for popcorn, corn Chex, Fritos, and (after the baking) M&Ms. You could easily add nuts (pre-baking), other cereals (pre-baking), dried fruit (pre- or post-baking), tortilla or potato chips (pre-baking), pretzels (pre-baking), or any other kind of candy (post-baking). You can also vary the amount you add - I like all my ingredients to get some of the caramel, but not to be drenched, but if you prefer a more uniform covering of caramel, use 2-4 cups less of ingredients.

The Only Caramel Snack Mix You'll Ever Need
12 cups salted popcorn
6 cups rice or corn Chex
3 cups Fritos
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup M&Ms

Preheat oven to 250°. Combine popcorn, Chex, and Fritos (or whatever other ingredients you are using that will not melt) in one or two roasting pans.

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Stir occasionally until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep the temperature as low as possible, as the caramel can burn easily. Once it starts to boil, this may be a very low temperature - you just want to keep it at that state.

After 5 minutes of boiling, remove the caramel from the heat. Stir in the vanilla, then stir in the baking soda. This will cause the caramel to expand.

Pour the caramel over the popcorn mix, and toss the mix to make sure the caramel gets on everything.

Bake for about 20 minutes, stirring everything and scraping up the extra caramel halfway through.

Remove from pan(s) into a large bowl to cool. You may need to break apart some of the pieces as they cool. Once the mix is not warm to the touch, add in any candies and toss to distribute.

If there's any left after you serve it (and there won't be), store it in an air-tight container.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Reading Mouse: The Goldfinch

The author of my absolute-favorite book (The Secret History) has a new book out, titled The Goldfinch. Could it possibly live up to the book I love so much?

Friday, November 1, 2013

It's NaBloPoMo time!

Hello? Anyone here?

The frequency of my posting has been absolutely abysmal, so I thought another round of National Blog  Posting Month was just what the doctor ordered. 

You've been forewarned.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dip and Sip Challenge, featuring BLT Guacamole

I could eat avocado every day. Every. Day. Of course, I don't, because they're always rock hard when I buy them, and then they all get ripe and soft at the exact same time ten days later.

I don't often declare my love of avocados out loud, so I was a bit surprised when I was invited to create a recipe for the Dip and Sip Challenge, sponsored by Piedra Azul Tequila, to celebrate National Guacamole Day (September 16th). I happily joined 9 other bloggers on the task, and I got to work.

Piedra Azul sent me a wonderful bottle of their blanco tequila, as well as a copy of Gaby Dalkin's new cookbook, Absolutely Avocados, for inspiration. I pored over the book, wanting to lick the pages, and marveling over some of the uses of avocado (hello, avocado-coconut ice cream!). Gaby includes tons of tips and tricks for buying and using avocados, including a whole section on different varieties of avocados that us poor folks in the northeast will NEVER see.

My friends and I eat guacamole at pretty much every gathering, to the point where even the folks who don't really cook know what the steps are and how to chop everything just right. For National Guacamole Day, however, I wanted something a little more unusual, and once I got the idea for BLT guacamole in my head, I just couldn't shake it.

The tomato part was easy; I always add tomato to my guacamole. Not much different there. Bacon - well, bacon can be added to anything. Definitely not a challenge. But lettuce? When I get guacamole at a Mexican restaurant, it always comes on a sad pile of shredded lettuce that I do my best to avoid. Even leafy, bright lettuce turns watery when chopped and mixed too much. And then, the answer came in the shape of my CSA share - kale!

Kale, pureed with some jalapeno, turned into the perfect lettuce-substitute. It gave the guacamole enough leafy green taste without changing the texture, (and hey, I hid half a bunch of kale in plain sight!). I added a little more kale, sliced into tiny threads, along with more tomato and bacon for garnish. I put the whole shebang into my molcajete (ok, it's a marble mortar) to serve.

BLT Guacamole
3-4 ripe Haas avocados, halved and pits removed
juice of 1 lime
1/2 to 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed (if you want less kick)
6 large leaves of kale, ribs removed, 1 leaf reserved
1 large tomato, or about 12-15 cherry tomatoes, seeds removed
3 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
salt and pepper

In a large bowl, mash avocado together with lime juice. Just break up the chunks; as you stir in the other ingredients, the avocado will become creamier.

In a food processor, mince the jalapeno (decide how spicy you'd like your finished product) and 5 kale leaves together. It won't quite puree, but you want it as smooth as possible. Add to the avocado and stir to combine.

Finely chop the tomato, reserving a tablespoon or so for garnish. Mix the rest into the avocado.

Add most of the crumbled bacon and combine. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, top the guacamole with finely julienned kale, chopped tomato, and a sprinkle of bacon.

And what goes better with guacamole than a margarita? (If you said tortilla chips, you can just shut up. You've clearly never eaten guacamole with a spoon.) I didn't love margaritas for a long time because I always thought of them as syrupy sweet and bright green. But when I realized they were easy to make at home, I was a much happier camper. A traditional margarita is usually 3 parts tequila, 2 parts orange liqueur, and 1 part lime (sometimes 2 parts lime, 1 part orange liqueur instead). I occasionally find that even a little too sweet, wanting just to savor the acidic bite of the citrus alongside the tequila. Combining multiple kinds of citrus adds more sweetness without getting too cloying. And while mixing all those juices together doesn't produce the prettiest drink, it does provide a mixer that doesn't overshadow the tequila, so you want to use a better tequila, like Piedra Azul.

Mixed Citrus Margaritas
This isn't so much a recipe as a set of guidelines.

Combine the juice of whatever citrus you'd like - I like one grapefruit, 1 tangerine (or blood orange, when in season), 1 lemon, and 2 or 3 limes. This much citrus makes enough juice for 6-8 drinks.

Combine 1/4 cup tequila with 1/4 cup of citrus juice. Serve over ice, with or without a salted rim on the glass.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Szechuan's Dumpling, Arlington

I will preface any post about Chinese food with this: I don't know much about Chinese food, other than what my rather Americanized palate enjoys. I don't know how any particular restaurant compares to "the real stuff" (whatever that may be), but I know what's tasty to me. And I only add this preface because there are a lot of people out there who do know about this, and they often speak down (write down?) to those of us who don't know what the names of all the dishes mean. That being said...

Szechuan's Dumpling is a new-ish Chinese restaurant in Arlington Heights; they've been open since around February. I had read some good things about it online, but I didn't visit until my friend Dave arranged for a few of us to try it out a few months ago. I have visited about once a week since then, and there are at least 3 other Chinese take-out spots between my house and Arlington Heights, so that should give you an idea of how good this place is.

No order is complete without their Pork Mini Juicy Dumplings (aka soup dumplings) and their pan-fried Pork and Chive Dumplings (above). I especially love the crispy sear that the pan-fried dumplings get, and the juxtaposition with the chewy dough and salty meat.

My absolute favorite dish at Szechuan's Dumplings, though, is the Eggplant with Basil Leaves. I will eat eggplant (especially the long, thin ones) in just about any presentation, but this one is sweet and salty and just a little spicy and absurdly addictive. I often find myself picking off the last few pieces and then mixing some rice into whatever sauce is left on the plate because it's just too good to leave behind.

There are many other tasty items on the menu (the Crispy Chicken with Basil Leaves and the Salt and Pepper Shrimp jump out at me), but I am so enamored by the dumplings and the eggplant that I have a hard time ordering anything else. We try to sneak in a new dish every time we eat at the restaurant itself, but it's hard when I've already established favorites!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New England Summer in a Bowl

There is nothing more evocative of a New England summer than corn, tomatoes, and lobster. A summer is not complete without a meal containing all three (luckily, I have never had a summer go by without a meal like that).

However, I'm not a huge fan of eating a whole lobster as a meal. It's too messy, and the tail gets cold while I'm working on the claws (or vice versa), and what do you do with the plateful of water that comes pouring out of the body?! Add to that a trip to the sink to rinse the gunk out of the tail meat, and you don't have the most pleasant of meals.

This recipe came about precisely because of this. It's the best way to combine those summer flavors into one dish. It's so simple, in fact, that this is really an un-recipe. I've spread it around to friends and family, and each person makes it their own. So consider this less of  something to follow and more of a jumping-off point.

This recipe naturally doubles or triples very easily, and it's a wonderful dish to serve a party (plus, you're serving lobster! But you only have to buy 4 or so to feed a crowd!).

Lobster, Corn, and Tomato Hash
2 Tbsp butter
3-4 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cob
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, the smaller the better (you can use big tomatoes too, like I did above, but the result is a little more watery)
2 1-lb(ish) lobsters, cleaned, and meat roughly chopped
Handful of basil, torn into small pieces
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add corn and tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to burst. Add lobster and basil and cook until lobster is warmed through. Salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Caprese Dip

And so we've reached that point in the summer where we are required by Mother Nature to eat tomatoes with everything. This is not a complaint, not by a long shot. Tomatoes are one of the few things I could eat by themselves daily while they're in season (and then not touch again for another 10 months). But variety is still a good thing.

While this dip is not a true Caprese (missing the mozzarella cheese), the Greek yogurt that actually turns it into a dip gives it enough dairy creaminess that the missing cheese should be excused. Once the tomatoes and basil are in there, you'll hardly be missing the cheese.

I used a mixture of fresh and dried basil because I didn't have enough fresh to give the dip the right amount of flavor. Feel free to use all fresh or all dried, but I quite liked the combination of using both.

Caprese Dip
1 cup Greek yogurt (fat-free is fine)
1 cup diced tomatoes (seeds removed or it'll get too watery)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 2 Tbsp dried basil)

Mix ingredients together, then salt and pepper to taste. Allow to chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour before serving.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Donut Hole Croquembouche

I have been enamored by the idea of the Croquembouche for a while - a tower of cream puffs under a net of spun caramel threads. I've wanted to make one, especially after I mostly mastered caramel a year or so ago. But what situation called for a cream puff tower? It seemed a little extreme for most of the occasions in my life.

However, when my friend Ann told me that she was hosting the wedding shower for our friend April and mentioned the idea of a Croquembouche, I jumped at the chance to make one. April is a huge Dunkin' Donuts fan, but she lives in LA, where there are no DD franchises. When she visits Boston, the are always multiple boxes of donut holes around. By simply replacing the cream puffs in a Croquembouche with donut holes, we'd have an impressive-looking dessert that the bride would adore.

I was surprised at just how easy this was to make! Granted, I had taken out a lot of the work by buying donut holes rather than making my own cream puffs, but even the structure was not that difficult to put together. Plus, playing with the sugar to get the netting around the tower was just plain fun.

Note: I used a cardboard cake round as the base, like something you would get from a bakery. Since you're basically gluing down the donuts with caramel, I would suggest using one of these, since cleaning a real plate later will be a total bear.

Donut Hole Croquembouche 
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
Large box of donut holes (about 50) - plain or glazed flavors work better than powdered flavors

In a medium saucepan, heat sugar and water over medium-high heat. Do not stir! Swirl the pan gently if you feel you must stir. The sugar will dissolve, melt, and begin to turn golden. Reduce heat as it begins to turn color. Watch the caramel carefully as it darkens - too dark and it will taste very burnt. Don't forget it will continue to cook a bit after you take it off the heat!

Working one by one, dip one side of a donut hole in the caramel, then place it caramel-side down on the serving plate. Continue this, placing them in a circle around the plate. Begin stacking them into a tower, caramel-side down. If the donut holes are strangely shaped and won't stay on their own, spoon some caramel into any gaps and hold them down as the caramel hardens.

Once all the donut holes have been placed, dip a spoon into the caramel (which will have cooled a good deal by now). As you lift the spoon out of the pan, a thin strand of caramel will harden - you can actually tug on the string to make it longer and thinner. Gently work these strands around the tower as you pull them off the spoon. They will harden quickly, so place them quickly, but you'll have plenty of caramel, so don't worry about it if you don't get a strand in place before it hardens. Continue until you have a sparkly net over the whole tower.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday I'm In Love... with Coffee-Mate Creamer Girl Scout Flavors

As a Girl Scout (yup, like still - I think I even have my card in my wallet), I kind of love that Girl Scout Cookies have become a thing far beyond scouting in general. I mean, I still think scouting (and its relationship with cookie selling) is very, very important. My parents made me go door-to-door in our quiet neighborhood to sell cookies, teaching me confidence and poise from a very young age. But the idea of Girl Scout Cookies has become so infused in our culture that just linking a product to the brand will likely increase the chance that someone will buy it.

Coffee-Mate Coffee Creamer has paired with the Girl Scouts to make your daily cup of coffee taste like a cookie. I don't usually use creamer (plain cream only for me, please!), but I couldn't help but try Thin Mint creamer. Would I have looked at this twice if it had just been called chocolate mint? No, not at all. The Girl Scout Cookie marketing worked on me!

And yes, the Thin Mint creamer tastes just like the real thing! And I actually enjoyed the other flavor, Caramel Coconut, even more! These are overly sweet for me, but then, I don't use any sweetener anymore, but these definitely make a nice sweet treat in my ice coffee. I've even developed a drink to enjoy while on summer vacation.

Rum and Coconut Iced Coffee
Ice coffee (I've used Starbucks VIA blended with cold water in a pinch)
Coffee-Mate Girl Scouts Caramel Coconut creamer
Spiced rum (I like Kraken)

Fill a tall glass with ice, then fill 3/4 full with cold coffee. Add equal parts creamer and rum, then stir to combine. Best enjoyed on a lounge chair in the shade.

Full disclosure note: Samples of these creamer flavors were sent to me for free.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Colonial Inn, Concord

I have lived almost my entire life in Lexington, and yet I've somehow managed to go all these years without a visit to The Colonial Inn in Concord. Maybe that has something to do with the long-standing feud between Lexington and Concord (because they can't accept the fact that the first shot of the American Revolution was fired in Lexington), or, more likely, why would I visit an Inn in the town right next to mine?

The Colonial Inn, originally built in 1716 and in operation as a hotel since 1889, could continue to operate based on its history alone. What tourist (and yes, this region sees bus loads of tourists each year) wouldn't want to stay in such a historic spot (which may or may not house a ghost or two)? But recent personnel changes and a revamping of the Inn's two restaurants have made it more than just a historic spot. I was invited to spend an evening sampling dishes from both restaurants, and how could I say no?

We started the evening in the taproom, decked out much as it would have been during the Colonial period, with low ceilings, rustic tables, brass lamps - the perfect spot to enjoy a bit of whiskey or beer. This room, along with a larger bar room in the back and a restaurant room in the front of the building, make up Liberty, the Inn's gastropub. We enjoyed bites from the bar menu a we listened to the in-house historian, Arthur. The crab johnnycakes (less johnnycake, really, and more an impressive crab cake) and the smoked maple bacon bites (served on skewers with little bits of roasted sweet potato) were my favorites. All of the bacon is made in-house, and it's the attention to the little things like that that make a difference here. I would happily stop in for bacon bites and a drink any day.

After our cocktail hour, we moved into Merchants Row, the more formal dining room in the Inn. Our meal, meant to highlight the new menu and new chef at Merchants Row, was served in small portions (ie the portions in my pictures here are not indicative of what you'd order). I found quite a few dishes that I would happily order full servings of.

The highlights of the meal for me were the various seafood dishes. We started with salmon tartare, and while that's never my thing, I appreciated the skill with which it was made. Next up was shrimp and grits, which I'm pretty sure everyone at my table agreed on as being phenomenal. Granted, I haven't had shrimp and grits in the South, but this was by far the best rendition I've ever had. The grits were appropriately cheesy, the shrimp were buttery and perfectly cooked, and the little bits of bacon, mushroom, and scallion on top tied everything together. In fact, this dish is on the menu in Liberty as well, so you can pair it with your drink and bacon bites. After a sorbet palate cleanser, we had our last seafood course, a Meyer lemon scallop with parsnips and beets. I am always in awe of perfectly cooked scallops, and these were wonderful. Our final dish was a duo of beef - short ribs and steak frites - and while they were very good, they paled in comparison to the seafood that had come before.

And then a dessert sampler came out. The chocolate stout cake was fine, the bread pudding was tasty, but oh, the blondie sundae! I could have happily eaten another one, even after the huge meal we'd had. This perfect sundae consisted of tiny bites of blondies, topped with ice cream, whipped cream, caramel corn, and nicely salty caramel. I was definitely licking that plate clean, and you would have too.

I am happy that I have finally visited The Colonial Inn, and even happier still that I've found a lovely spot to send visitors to the area to eat. As the days get nicer, Concord is a perfect spot to spend the day exploring (again, not as perfect as Lexington, but I'm biased), and lunch or dinner at The Colonial Inn would be the perfect way to wrap up the day (especially if you order one of those blondie sundaes!).

Full disclosure note: my meal was provided for free by the Inn.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Moving on in the Lamb Pro-Am!

A big thank you to everyone who voted for my Green Goddess Lamb Kebabs in the 2013 Lamb Pro-Am! I am happy to announce that I have been paired up with Michael Scelfo from Russell House Tavern. I can't wait to see what he does with my recipe!

The Lamb Pro-Am Finals will be held at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge on May 19th. Ticket info can be found here. Please come and stuff the box with votes for me! ;)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lambtastic Voting

I spent the morning watching the interfaith service for the Boston Marathon. I think it was what we all needed to hear right about now.

And so life goes on.

Voting for the Lamb Pro-Am has opened, and I would be thrilled to receive your vote and move on in the contest. The top 4 of the 7 Boston bloggers will move on to work with a local chef to reinterpret their recipes. The Lamb Pro-Am Finals will be held on May 19th, and tickets can be purchased here.

Voting ends on April 26th, so vote, vote, vote!

Thank you!!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

For Boston

There's not much to be said, but here I am anyway.

I am a Bostonian, born and bred, even though I have never lived within the limits of the city. Being a Bostonian is more a weirdly puritanical mindset than it is an indication of where you were born (it may have something to do with being able to speak and understand the accent, however). I have proudly called myself a Bostonian (and occasionally a Masshole) wherever I have traveled (often while wearing my Red Sox hat proudly). And I am proud to be a Bostonian today.

Plenty of other writers have said it more eloquently than I ever could, but Boston is a grand city with amazing history and tough-as-nails people, and this won't keep us down.

I am sad that someone chose one of our most sacred holidays, Patriots Day, to cause harm. I am sad that this day, which holds so many dear memories, will be marred. I am sad that my niece, whom we have always kidded about being a Tax Day baby, will hear about this day on her birthday for the forseeable future. I am, of course, sad for the loss of life and the injuries sustained by so many.

But mostly I'm just mad. You don't mess with Boston.

The title of this post refers to the Boston College fight song. I'd like to think of it more as this city's fight song right about now. Here's the Dropkick Murphys version.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Olive (yes, olive) Shortbread

I like a little challenge. That is exactly why I love Kitchen Play - the site often challenges me to think creatively about a particular ingredient. So when Kitchen Play hosted a progressive party (with different bloggers taking on each course) for Lindsay Olives, I wanted to join in. Five bloggers posted delicious recipes, and readers were invited to add their own course.

Now, the post was worded in such a way that immediately made me want to try making a dessert. But what to make? There are plenty of olive oil desserts out there, but not many that use actual olives.

Since cookies are probably my favorite thing to bake, I went for that. Shortbread, which doesn't have a lot of flavors already competing with the addition of olives, seemed perfect. I wanted to enhance the flavor of the black olives, so I subbed out a little of the butter in my normal shortbread recipe for olive oil.

The resulting cookie is floral and citrus-y and just a little bit unctuous. I had a very nice lemon olive oil sitting around from my trip to Italy last fall, but you could certainly use a plain olive oil instead. The chopped olives gave a nice amount of chew to the crispy cookie, plus they gave a little bit of a burst of olive-y goodness every once in a while. I sprinkled black sea salt on the tops of some of the cookies, and I enjoyed those even more (but then I'm a sucker for salt in my sweets).

Will I be making olive shortbread again? Oh yes!

Olive Shortbread
1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbsp) butter
1/4 cup good olive oil (lemon olive oil, preferably)
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups flour
12 Lindsay large pitted black olives, washed and minced
black sea salt (optional)

Cream butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Cream in olive oil. Mix in egg and salt. Add in flour and mix until just combined. Gently mix in the minced olive so it doesn't get mushed. Halve dough and shape each half into a squared log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in parchment paper and freeze until firm, at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375°. Cut dough into 1/4 inch thick slices. Place slices on parchment-lined cookie sheet and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake until edges are golden, about 15 minutes. Do not let the cookies brown, just look for hints of color at the edges.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Green Goddess Lamb Kebabs

I had such a blast cooking in the inaugural Lamb Pro-Am last year, I jumped at the chance to participate again. Last year's recipe was so personal for me, and I was very proud that I got to the finals with that dish.

Because American lamb has such a wonderful taste (never that game-y flavor that most people associate with lamb), I didn't want to make anything that would cover up the actual lamb flavor. A mix of herbs, I thought, would compliment that taste without overpowering it while also making the dish feel very Spring-y.

But the herbs needed a vehicle. I started looking at Green Goddess dressing recipes, but I avoid most things that call for large amounts of mayonnaise. That got me thinking, however, about how I often swap mayo out of recipes for Greek yogurt, something I still don't eat on its own but which certainly still has its place in the kitchen. Using yogurt as a marinade base also has the wonderful effect of tenderizing the meat; the boneless leg of lamb I had was almost flawless, but a yogurt marinade can help a more grizzly chunk of meat soften up. I call these Green Goddess Lamb Kebabs, but I know this isn't a traditional Green Goddess dressing. Maybe Green Goddess-ish Kebabs would be a better name?

I served these kebabs with shaved parsnip chips and leftover marinade. The sweetness of the parsnips was a nice contrast to the creamy dip, plus the chips added some great texture.

A note on the herbs: I used a mix of parsley, cilantro, basil, dill, and mint. You can leave out any of these that you might like. For one container of yogurt, I filled an entire salad spinner with herb leaves (picked off their stems). This probably added up to about 2 grocery store-sized bunches of herbs. Use as much as you like, but this is definitely a case where the more, the merrier!

And thanks again to the wonderful American Lamb Board and Boston Chefs for sponsoring this event. They both go to great lengths to support American lamb, which I find the tastiest of all the lamb out there.

Voting is open now, and you can buy tickets to the Lamb Pro-Am Finals by heading here.

Here's my lamb grilling on our indoor electric grill because it rained the day I made this recipe.

Green Goddess Lamb Kebabs
16 oz. Greek yogurt (not fat-free)
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
about 2 bunches worth of fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil, dill, mint), minced
4 scallions, minced
juice of 1 lemon
cayenne pepper
2-3 lbs lamb, cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes

In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt, garlic, minced herbs, scallions, and lemon juice. Stir to combine, then blend with an immersion blender. Salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Remove half of the sauce and reserve. Add lamb to remaining sauce in bowl, making sure all the lamb is well covered by the sauce. Refrigerate 24 hours.

Heat grill. Thread lamb onto wooden skewers, being careful not to pack them in too closely or they won't cook evenly. You do not have to wipe off any marinade that is clinging to the meat. Grill about 5 minutes per side, until they are pink in the middle. Serve with reserved sauce.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Not-Too-Puffy Sugar Cookies

As I've mentioned before, I am a HUGE fan of cookie cutters. But not just any cookie cutter will do; only the weirdest and geekiest will find a happy home in my kitchen.

So when PAX East (the gaming convention held in Boston that I attend every year) rolled around and I started to think up cookie ideas for the Cookie Brigade (a group that gives away cookies to PAX attendees and takes donations for Child's Play), I knew I had to be on the lookout for more geeky stamps.

And then I found my new favorite Etsy shop, WarpZone. It is FILLED with amazingly-detailed, highly geeky cookie cutters made using a 3-D printer. I had such a hard time picking some and not just buying everything she had. I'm actually still fighting that temptation...

I opted for Doctor Who (above) and Archer (below). The Archer ones are awesome, but they were a little too delicate because of how the heads stick out for me to bring to PAX again. The Doctor Who ones, however, turned out AWESOME! I got great response when I was handing them out, and I'm really happy with how the food coloring in the dough turned out. The weeping angels turned out the best, because I used black dye and marbled it in a bit to look like stone.

Oh, and Cookie Brigade ended up raising $17,650 this PAX East!!! How incredible is that?!

The problem with these kinds of cookie cutters, though, is that you need to use a dough that doesn't rise too much in the oven. My usual sugar cookie recipe puffs up a fair deal. Luckily, I found a great recipe in an old issue of Cooking Light, and I ended up making 6 batches of it. It's not a particularly special sugar cookie recipe, but I like to keep track of anything I've had substantial results with. It's also a fairly forgiving dough - I rerolled it and rerolled it after screwing up quite a few times (these cookie cutters need the dough to be a very specific thickness), and I didn't feel the quality of the cookie suffered. I will DEFINITELY be making these cookies for PAX again next year.

Not-Too-Puffy Sugar Cookies (adapted from Cooking Light)
1 cup sugar
10 Tbsp butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or paste
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour

In the bowl of a mixer, cream together sugar and butter. Beat in vanilla and egg whites, then beat in baking powder and salt. Slowly add flour until combined. Divide dough in half, shaping each half into a disk. If you want to add food dye (I recommend gel food dye) to the dough, gently work it in now (don't forget plastic gloves!). Wrap with plastic wrap and chill at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly flour your rolling surface, then roll dough out to desired thickness (about 1/4 inch for these cutters). Stamp away to your heart's content! Place cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet with about 1 inch between cookies. Bake for 10 minutes or until just starting to brown at the edges.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Vine Brook Tavern, Lexington

I've lived most of my life in the Boston suburb of Lexington, so I can say firmly that it is somewhat of a culinary wasteland. There's plenty of pizza and Asian (which only recently got any traction with Formosa Taipei - but then, that's another post). And besides one of my favorite bakeries, there wasn't anything in town that I've felt deserved much attention.

Until now, at least. A few months ago, Vine Brook Tavern opened right in the center of town, and I feel like I've found my local watering hole AND a place I can firmly recommend to friends and guests. I've been a few times already, each in very different circumstances (once for a drink and appetizers, once for a more casual family-like dinner, and once for a finer evening out), and I've only seen the quality of everything improve over time. The building, which has housed a few Italian chain restaurants in it's last few iterations, has been cleaned up a lot, and it really fits in with the historical look of the town now. I'd call the design contemporary colonial, with lots of wood and iron and muted colors. And yet, it still feels inviting! The only thing missing is a fireplace to have a drink next to.

First off: the drinks. There is some fine cocktail work happening here! The fig sidecar (with fig-infused Bulleit bourbon) is something I dream of, and the Bee's Knees is perfectly sweet. And these drinks aren't wimpy, either!

My favorite appetizer at Vine Brook is the lobster tacos (one for $4 or three for $12), but they are sadly not on the menu right now (they've been replaced by steak tacos). Hopefully they'll come back soon, because a couple of those and a drink at the bar would make me a happy girl any day. Coming in a close second, however, is the duck confit pizzetta (above, $9) - roughly 6 inches in diameter, the little pizza is loaded with duck confit, crispy caramelized onions, fresh ricotta, and little pieces of hazelnut. Plus, the crust is crispy on the bottom - a tough thing to do with all those toppings!

Another appetizer you have to try: the cauliflower steak ($8). Personally, I love cauliflower and would eat it any day of the week, but I know most people aren't quite so excited by it. Even our waiter said he wasn't a fan of cauliflower, but he strongly recommended we try this dish. It's a wonderful presentation of  crispy roasted cauliflower with plenty of garlic and capers. I love the idea of starting a meal not with a salad, but with a cooked veggie!

The entrees are equally delicious and hearty. My steak frites ($23, which I ordered with sweet potato fries instead of regular, and you should too) were perfectly cooked, and the fries were tossed with arugula, parmesan, and garlic, which wilted the greens slightly. Oh so good! The roasted salmon ($22) was also clearly cooked with expertise and was served with crispy root veggies and a bright beet sauce.

I didn't have high hopes for dessert, which was OK , because I was plenty full. But when our order of apple and pear crisp came out, piping hot, with a pile of melty vanilla ice cream on top, I suddenly found myself willing to eat some more. The fruit was still chunky, not cooked down to mush, and the topping was loaded with oats and was nice and crunchy. What a way to end a meal!

Like I said, I am so happy to have a place like Vine Brook Tavern open in my hometown. We sorely needed something of this quality, and I know I'll be back. Chef Chris Frothingham (who has previously worked at Sel de la Terre, Bonfire, and Kingfish Hall) is doing great stuff with fresh and seasonal items while maintaining a varied menu that can appeal to a wide variety of diners. I can't wait to see what he comes up with when all the local produce comes in during the summer!

Full disclosure note: one of my three visits was paid for by the restaurant.

Vine Brook Tavern on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lamb-tastic Voting!

So my lamb post from a few days ago was not just a recipe - it was also an entry into a wonderful contest sponsored by the American Lamb Board! I'm one of just 10 bloggers across the US asked to come up with a lamb recipe fit for Valentine's Day, and a year's worth of lamb (!!) is at stake for the winner.

Won't you help me win some more delicious lamb? If I do, there are bound to be even more lamb recipes here...

You can vote on the Fans of Lamb website through February 28th. I really do appreciate every vote!!

Also, Boston's Lamb Jam is tomorrow - stay tuned for more delicious lamb pictures!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Valentine's Day Veggie Soup

What, you didn't believe me when I said I like to do cheesy heart-shaped everything for Valentine's Day?!

Over the weekend, trapped in the house due to the blizzard, I figured soup would be a perfect way to stay cozy. I had seen this nifty heart-shaped carrot tutorial and knew I had to incorporate it. Once you get a hang of cutting the carrots, it really doesn't take too long to make. For long carrots, I'd recommend cutting them in half first so they're shorter and more manageable.

Since I also had butternut squash to add to the soup and I knew it would remain pretty solid throughout the cooking, I wanted to make them heart-shaped as well. The technique for these is a little different - cut fat slices of the top (skinnier) section. Cut each of these slices into 6 triangles, like you're cutting a pie. Make a notch in the top of each triangle and use your potato peeler to round edges into a heart shape. Slice into thin pieces like with the carrot.

This soup - whether you make heart-shaped carrots and squash or not - is hearty and filling and delicious! We all went back for seconds and even enjoyed it again the next day!

Heart-y Veggie Soup
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 slices of bacon, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, cut into heart-shaped slices (or diced)
3 celery stalks, diced
about 1/2 lb butternut squash, cut into heart-shaped slices (or diced)
28-oz can peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped, including juice
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 can cannellini (white) beans
3-4 large leaves of kale, chopped and stems removed

In a large pot, heat olive oil, then add bacon and cook until it begins to brown. Add onion, carrots, celery, and squash and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the veggies start to soften, about 10 minutes.

Add tomatoes and juice, broth, water, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered until the veggies are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf, then stir in beans and kale. Serve once beans are heated through and kale is wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Lamb Kufte is for Lovers

According to the American Lamb Board, February is Lamb Lover's Month. When they reached out to me to create a special Valentine's Day meal for two, there was no way I could say no.

I'm a fan of the typical cheesy Valentine's Day stuff - heart-shaped everything, splashed in red and pink, surrounded by little baby cupids. My Valentine's Pinterest board has more links than my Christmas boards! So forgive me if I went a little overboard with this recipe of heart-shaped kufte. If your heart (ok, that was taking it a bit too far) isn't in it, you could just shape these as patties or meatballs.

I was so happy with this recipe, I would have made a second batch right away to put into the freezer just to have on hand... if we hadn't been in the middle of a huge blizzard here in New England. As it is, I will be making this again in the future. It was relatively quick to make (especially if you make the sauce ahead of time or start it first), and it stretched one pound of meat into enough to fill 4 people. Another plus? It can be made ahead of time, just doing the final bake before you eat - especially helpful when Valentine's Day falls on a weekday ;)

And the sauce! Oh god, the sauce! I wanted to use pomegranate molasses, but I thought the flavors would be even more exciting if I made my own and added some red wine. I could probably eat the sauce all by itself, because it tastes like a very tart and tannic jam. I'd love to try it on other meats as well.

I served my kufte with buttery pilaf topped with fresh pomegranate seeds, although a salad or even some noodles would work.

Heart-Shaped Lamb Kufte with Pomegranate Wine Molasses
1/2 cup bulgur wheat
1/2 cup hot water
1 small onion, minced
1 shallot, minced
large handful of fresh parsley, minced
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp sumac
1 lb ground lamb

In a mixing bowl combine bulgur wheat and hot water; let sit, covered, for 15 minutes. If there is any water left after 15 minutes, carefully pour it out. Add onion, shallot, parsley, egg, salt, pepper, allspice, cayenne, and sumac, and mix well. Add lamb and incorporate with the rest of the ingredients. Don't overwork the lamb or it will become tough.

Line a baking sheet with foil. To shape hearts, take a golf ball-size piece of mixture and form it into a triangular patty. Place on baking sheet, then gently use one finger to form an indentation in the top of the triangle (as in the picture above) to form the heart (this may take a bit of coaxing). Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Cook kufte in a 350° oven for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through. Serve with pomegranate wine molasses below.

Pomegranate Wine Molasses
2 cups pomegranate juice
2 cups red wine
1 shallot, minced
2 tsp honey

In a medium saucepan, combine juice, wine, and shallot. Bring to a boil and cook about 45 minutes, until reduced to 1/2-cup or so. Whisk occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking. In the last 5 minutes, add the honey and whisk well. Once the sauce is reduced, add salt to taste and serve with kufte.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday I'm In Love... with Sucré King Cake

I had never had a king cake until a few years ago, when my friend Ann (who went to college in New Orleans) decided that we should try making one. It was a huge success (thanks mostly to Joanne Chang's brioche recipe from her Flour cookbook), but I didn't have much to compare it to.

But when Sucre Bakery asked me to try their king cake, I jumped at the chance. A real king cake, straight from New Orleans? Yes please!  (Here's some history on the king cake if you don't know it.)

I had a hell of a time getting a good picture of Sucre's king cake because it is just too beautiful. Coated in edible glitter (the ONLY kind of glitter I'll stand for) in traditional Mardi Gras colors, this cake will not allow decent pictures to be taken. But in person, it's gorgeous! It would make a stunning addition to a buffet or as a centerpiece (but we just ate it with our hands straight out of the box).

And the taste? Oh so good! I was a little worried about it having a cream cheese filling, but in truth, the cream cheese is very light and not at all cloying. In spots, it was almost absent, while in others, it was a bit thicker. The dough itself is light and chewy, like a perfect breakfast pastry. We enjoyed some of the cake at room temperature, but we also heated some for a few seconds in the microwave (as suggested by Sucre) and that was even better! In fact, I'm drooling just thinking about it.

I was worried that a king cake shipped from the land of Mardi Gras would be crazy expensive, but Sucre's cakes are only $20, so even with shipping, it would hard to find anything in the Boston area at a comparable price (not to mention the taste!). But they only make king cakes from January until Mardi Gras (which this year is only a week and a half away!!!), so order now!

Full Disclosure note: I was sent samples for free by Sucre, but the opinions are all mine.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Blood Orange Negroni

The Negroni has been my drink for a while now. I like the play between bitter and sweet that it offers, plus I don't know anyone else who likes it, so I don't have to worry about running out of ingredients.

Traditionally, a Negroni is one part gin, one part sweet red vermouth, and one part Campari, served with an orange peel garnish. I tend to think of Campari as a summer drink (probably because I was first introduced to it on a hot summer day in the form of a Campari and soda). The addition here of blood orange to the basic recipe makes the drink slightly sweeter and also makes it something special that can only be made in the winter months, when blood oranges are available.

Blood Orange Negroni
1 part gin (I use Bombay Sapphire)
1 part Campari
1 part fresh-squeezed blood orange juice
1/2 part red vermouth
slice of blood orange

In a short tumbler, pour gin, Campari, juice, and vermouth over a handful of ice. Stir well, then top with orange slice.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday I'm in Love... with Crunchtables

Photo from Crunchtables

Fried. Pickles. In. The. Freezer.

I have found the most perfect frozen food, and it is fried pickles with a crispy pretzel crust! While wandering around the supermarket, I found an endcap freezer filled with Crunchtables, a new product featuring a variety of vegetables dressed in crunchy exteriors to make them more appealing. I mean, I'll eat veggies any time, but I know lots of people who won't. These aren't exactly a health food, but they're better than a lot of things out there.

So far, I've tried the zucchini, green beans, and pickles; I also have a box of broccoli waiting to be eaten.  (There are also mushrooms and carrots, but I couldn't find those.) Everything except the pickles have a "crouton crust" which is tasty enough, but the "pretzel crust" on the pickles is phenomenal! These pickles are as good as any I've had at local pubs, and knowing that I can pop them in the oven at any time of the day makes me very happy.

I only wish the pretzel coating were available on all the other veggies.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Finally, Fantastic Crab Cakes!

I feel like I've tried a million crab cake recipes, and while they always end up tasty enough, they're never easy enough or healthy enough or worth the time. Just prior to New Year's Eve, though, I was thumbing through a copy of Real Simple and found a crab cake recipe that sounded like it would be worth trying.

For a simple but elegant New Year's Eve dinner, I made the crab cakes and placed them on top of a salad made of butter lettuce, avocado, and grapefruit. I made a simple dressing with olive oil and grapefruit juice to tie everything together. I paired the salad with popovers, and we were all very happy.

These crab cakes are a breeze to whip up, and they can be made a few hours ahead of time and kept in the fridge before baking. Oh, and did I mention they're baked, not fried? These would be an elegant appetizer at a party, but I wouldn't hesitate to make them for a weeknight dinner, either.

Sesame Crab Cakes (from Real Simple Magazine)
8 ounces lumb crab meat
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs *
2 scallions, thinly sliced (I used a handful of chives)
1 egg
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
zest of 1 lime
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
3/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450°. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with baking spray (I used grill foil, which is already non-stick).

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well. Form into about 20 miniature patties and place on baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes per side.

*Use fresh bread crumbs instead of packaged. They make a big different. Just bake a couple of slices of bread at 300° for a few minutes per side until crispy, then use a food processor to chop fine. Store any extra in the freezer for next time.